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Priefer on Role of Special Teams in Vikings Defeat of Panthers

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Mike Priefer spent eight years coaching in the college ranks before he got his shot in the NFL.

Priefer didn't care that his first job was as a special teams assistant in Jacksonville in 2002; he was just happy to be in the league.

Now in his sixth season as the Vikings special teams coordinator, Priefer said there's no job he'd rather have than leading the third phase of Minnesota's unbeaten team.

Priefer explained the love he has for his job during a segment with "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen that will air at 6:30 tonight on KFAN 100.3-FM.

"The opportunity I had to get in the NFL from college football happened to be from special teams," Priefer said. "I am my father's son and I saw the impact he had on people's lives as a football coach.

"(With) special teams, you get to coach the whole team," he added. "If I can be a head coach someday, God willing, that's great. If not, then I have the greatest job in the world."

Priefer's units had a large hand in helping the Vikings move to 3-0 with a 22-10 victory over the Panthers last Sunday.

Besides his 54-yard punt return for a touchdown, Marcus Sherels also excelled as a gunner for the Vikings, using his quickness to get down the field in punt coverage.

Priefer said Sherels' elusiveness is a key element that helps him get away from defenders.

"Marcus is very hard to block at the line of scrimmage," Priefer said. "You can put a vice on him (in double coverage), you can put single pressure on him, but he's very savvy.

"He's developed what we call a glide-type move at the line of scrimmage and he's very difficult to block because he is so quick," he added. "I know he's only 5-foot-10, but he can make himself even smaller with the way he can bend and move and use his leverage against whoever is trying to block him."

Cordarrelle Patterson also excelled in his first time ever as a gunner, notching a tackle and downing a punt at the 2-yard line.

Priefer said the Vikings worked Patterson at the position during the offseason and in training camp but that the idea kind of got shelved when Patterson injured his shoulder in camp.

But the Vikings dusted off the idea last week, and Patterson delivered against the defending NFC champions.

"He had a great week of practice last week," said Priefer, who called Patterson the best kick returner in the league. "We knew going in that he was someone who could be a factor for us."

Added Patterson: "We're here for a reason, no matter where they put you. This is the thing we do; this is our job. So line me up anywhere – I'm going to go out there and make plays."

Priefer also mentioned players such as Emmanuel Lamur, Audie Cole, Mackensie Alexander and Andrew Sendejo who had strong special teams performances against Carolina.

So, too, did punter Jeff Locke, who had a net average of 45.6 yards per punt and dropped three of his seven punts inside the 20-yard line.

Priefer mentioned Locke's work ethic this offseason as a reason he's landed nine of his 17 punts inside the 20-yard line.

"A lot of that has to do with his confidence," Priefer said. "He's worked very hard, and we've kind of ramped up his workload this year more than other years.

"That doesn't mean I over-kick him and make him tired; he just does a good job of preparing himself every week," he added.

The Vikings have scored 12 special teams touchdowns since 2011, the most in the league over that span.

But Priefer said he and the special teams units have bigger goals in mind, especially this season.

"We haven't done anything yet," Priefer said. "We're 3-0, but we haven't accomplished anything anywhere near our goals.

"We have a long way to go and we were obviously happy we were able to contribute to the win this past Sunday," he added. "That's what we expect from our guys, and our guys expect that from each other."

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